On a recent Thursday morning during recess, most first- and second-graders at the Lura A. White Elementary School stamped the snow with their boots, trying to turn it into slush, or slid on the ice in the basketball court, falling down and rolling around whenever possible.
Few found something to do in the school playground.
The playground, with monkey bars and a few metal climbing structures between 25 and 40 years old, has no slide. The merry-go-round was removed last summer after adults decided that it was unsafe, and there aren’t enough swings for all the children.
But money to help build a new playground may be on the way. Local parents will have a good idea by the end of tomorrow about their chances for winning a $25,000 grant for a new playground. They’ll know for sure Jan. 8.
Taking the issue into their own hands, the parents formed the Play Board of Shirley to raise money to build a new playground for the elementary school.
As a result of their efforts, Shirley recently became the only community in New England to be named a Play City USA by KaBOOM! – a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose goal is to build a playground within walking distance of every child in America. The recognition made Shirley eligible to apply for the grant from KaBOOM!
Now the town of some 6,000 people is up against 21 communities from around the country – including Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco – that are hoping to get one of three $25,000 grants that KaBOOM! will give away this winter.
To participate in the contest, each city or town produced a three-minute video that showcases its community as a playful place. The community whose video gets the most votes by Dec. 21 (the votes will be counted proportionally with respect to the populations of different communities) on KaBOOM!’s website will have a higher chance of getting the grant.
Last summer, the children in Shirley’s summer program wrote letters and drew pictures describing what kind of playground they would like to have. Their wishes, said parent Sue Heinz, who has a son in kindergarten, were simple.
“All they wanted is a slide and more swings,” she said.
Currently there are only four swings on the playground for about 60 children, who usually come out all together during recess.
“They have to race to get to them,” Heinz said. “Our play places are horrible. They are old and unsafe and they wiggle. . . . You could get stuck if you put your tongue on them in cold weather,” and in the summer “there are bees swarming them.”
On this particular Thursday, some children screamed and chased their friends. A couple of children waited around for the swings, which were occupied, while one girl was observed trying to lick the metal climbing structure with blue and yellow peeling paint. Another boy busied himself with a baseball bat in the snow-covered field: He was breaking snow into pieces.
“I grew up here and a lot of equipment [is the same as] we had when I was young,” said Shirley resident Robin Terhune, who has two children at the elementary school. “I think it’s time for an update and time for new equipment that is safer.”
The chairman of the Board of Selectmen said the playground has not been updated because of the cost to taxpayers.
“There are other things that come ahead of it,” Selectman Lee “Chip” Guercio said. “The finances have never been at a point where they had extra money to invest in playgrounds.”
Last year, when the extra $165,000 that the school requested from the town failed at the ballot box – no one even tried to get money for the playground, said School Committee chairman Robert Schuler. “I hope that they are successful in their pursuit of the grant,” he said.
In Shirley’s video – which can be viewed at kaboom.shycast.com/contestant/9/ – children play the old-fashioned way (without a playground): screaming, pushing, hanging upside down, jumping up and down on the bed, and falling into a pile of autumn leaves.
Beth Quinty, who had never made a video before, said she borrowed a friend’s camera and carried it with her for four days, looking for playful moments. She brought the camera to her son’s soccer practices and to her friend’s house. At a friend’s home, Quinty found her 3-year-old daughter jumping on the bed. So she ran to her car and got her camera.
She also captured children rushing out of the elementary school excited for recess, a boy falling down from his skateboard on the tennis court, and her son cheering after scoring a goal in a soccer game. She inserted herself – swinging a bubble wand, with the words “I’m a pediatric physical therapist and I play all day” – into the two-minute, 20-second documentary.
KaBOOM!, started in the 1990s, has given out grants to encourage playfulness before and rebuilt close to 100 playgrounds in the Hurricane Katrina-affected Gulf Coast, but this year is its first Playful City USA program, said KaBOOM!’s director for national advocacy, Kristen Mehr. Playful City USA is an annual recognition program modeled on the Tree City USA program, she said.
To vote for Shirley, log on to kaboom.shycast.com/ contestant/9/ by tomorrow. One does not have to be a resident of Shirley to vote for the town.
Things on the children’s wish list
Last summer, children in Shirley drew pictures and wrote letters to kaBOOM! describing what kind of playground they would like to have.
Their wishes, according to parent Sue Heinz, were simple. Interviewed on a cold but sunny morning this month, here is what they had to say:
“If I was going to have a playground, I would want the swings a little higher, and a little more swings so there’s enough for everyone.” – Jacob Arnold, 8.
“I would like monkey bars, swings, a tennis court, and a slide.” – Ranya Basma, 8.
“A bigger football field, more basketball hoops, a lot more swings that we can all go on. So everyone can play.” – Edwin Dejesus Jr., 8.
“I would like a giant slide with a swimming pool.” – Rose Scesny
“New swings. Some of them are old and rusty and they make a squeaky noise.” – Ian Michael Boudreau
“Swings, a slide, and more basketball hoops.” – Kodiac Kucala, 7.